The first round of the NBA playoffs has finally come to an end. Here is a quick rundown of what to watch out for during the four second-round matchups.
The Eastern Conference
Lebron James and the Cavaliers survived a tough test by the upstart Pacers, but do they have enough firepower to defeat the top-seeded Toronto Raptors? The word here is no, but the road to the NBA Finals still goes through Cleveland until someone proves otherwise.
James will need all the help he can get (attention: Kevin Love) to defeat DeMar DeRozan, Kyle Lowry, and the Raptors’ second-ranked defense. If his supporting cast repeats the performance it gave against Indiana, James might miss the Finals for the first time in what feels like decades.
In the other Eastern Conference matchup, role reversal might well prove to be the dominant theme. The Celtics are the Number Two seed and have home-court advantage, but the 76ers have to be considered the favorites. They finished the regular season on a tear and dispatched with the Heat in five games, while the Celtics were pushed to the limit by a so-so Bucks team.
The Celtics are marvelously well-coached and play stout team defense, but they’ll continue to struggle without the scoring and leadership of Kyrie Irving. On the flip side, Ben Simmons, Joel Embiid, and JJ Redick seem poised to challenge for a Finals appearance regardless of who they face.
The Western Conference
The Utah Jazz hope to provide the top-seeded Rockets a bit more resistance than the overmatched Timberwolves did, but Houston is so good at both ends of the floor that a showdown with the Warriors almost seems inevitable.
With an offense that features MVP candidate James Harden, Chris Paul, and Eric Gordon, it’s easy to forget that the Rockets had the league’s top-ranked defense during the regular season. They might only be down 1-0, but this is a truth the Jazz are likely to remember all too well.
We’re only one game into the New Orleans/Golden State series, but things are already looking a bit grim for Anthony Davis and the rest of the Pelicans. Even without All Universe guard Steph Curry, the Warriors offense was versatile, fluid, and almost unstoppable. Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green combined for almost 70 points, and the Pelicans just didn’t have an answer for the Warriors’ unselfishness.
On defense, The Warriors threw a variety of looks at Anthony Davis and begged the other Pelicans to try and beat them. Davis played well enough considering, but he’ll likely need more help than the rest of the Pelicans’ roster can give.
photo via Instagram: @NBA